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Notre Dame Smokers fuel football tradition

Sarah Barrett | Friday, September 24, 2004

The Notre Dame Smokers Committee is an organization surrounded by the haze of legend and fervor – and just a whiff of cigar smoke.

Founded in 1943, the Notre Dame Smokers tradition started with the late, great, Edward “Moose” Krause to help promote Notre Dame football through the hardships of the war, Smokers chairman Steve Filbert said.

The Smokers came by their name because of the tendencies of the founding fathers to smoke cigars and play cards during meetings. One becomes a Smoker, and thus a member of its father organization the Knights of Columbus, by being a man who practices Catholicism on a regular basis and works his way up through the different degrees of being a Knight.

The Smokers are heavily involved in service, and today the organization acts as a non-profit aimed at raising funds and working to better the South Bend community.

Charitable funds are earned through various fundraisers and combined with money that the members have accrued and invested.

The Smokers frequently devote time and money to local charities such as the Homeless Shelter and Women’s Shelters, and sponsor scholarships for South Bend area catholic high schools. On average, the Smokers give out $1,200-1,500 each year.

While the Smokers reach out to the surrounding community, they retain a very close relationship with the University.

Every Friday night before a home football game, families of committee members, alumni club members and non-alumni gather at the Sacred Heart Parish Center.

“It is a family affair,” Filbert said. “We serve food, beer, wine and pop and host anywhere from 300 to 500 people each meeting.”

Bringing together old friends, classmates and fellow Irish fans, the meetings draw in devotees from all over the country.

One man even flies into South Bend from Kansas City, Mo. every home game to support the team and recount stories from his time at Notre Dame with fellow alumni and current students, Filbert said. The Parish Center reserves rooms for 150 people each home game to accommodate out-of-town fans.

With the formation of the Smokers Committee came a vow by Krause to host a speaker at each meeting – an initiative for people to gather together as a family before the upcoming game.

As a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgement of the Smokers mission statement, a promise was made that the head coach of the Notre Dame Football team would make an appearance at one gathering each year.

Unfortunately, the frequent turnover in the coach position has caused the promise to be neglected, perhaps due to lack of communication and the passing of Krause. Nevertheless, many great speakers have come to the meetings, and Notre Dame baseball coach Paul Mainieri and basketball coach Mike Brey are planning appearances.

The speakers reminisce about their Notre Dame experiences and share with the members their love for our University.

“People just love Notre Dame, its great history [and] great tradition,” Filbert said. “It’s a matter of camaraderie – go to the pep rally and to Smokers afterwards.”

The doors of the Parish Center will be open immediately following tonight’s pep rally.